Pitt Innovation Teams Receive Funding to Advance Discoveries Toward the Market

Three Pitt Innovation teams received a total of $25,000 in funding to continue pursuing commercial translation research in the Fall 2019 cohort of the Innovation Institute’s Pitt Ventures First Gear innovation commercialization program.

Receiving the top award of $15,000 following a pitch competition at the end of the program was Team Vocal Mirror, which is creating a web-based service that solicits and delivers listener feedback to speakers to let them know how they are being perceived by others so they can make focused changes to their communication behaviors.

The team is led by Leah Helou, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, where she studies “mind-voice pathways.”

“I was impressed by the level of guidance and feedback I received not just from the course instructors and my own business mentor, but also from every other business mentor in our cohort.  The input I received challenged me to think more strategically and realistically about my endeavor, and I think in the long run it will translate into fewer mistakes and less wasted time on my part,” Helou said.

The team also includes Jason Bohland, assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Science Disorders; Chris Brown, associate professor in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders,  Aidan Wright, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, Rabih Helou, chief operating officer of Beauty Shoppe, and business mentor Mark Storch.

Two teams received $5,000 each.

Team Hindsight is proposing a mobile eye-tracking app that uses facial recognition software that can be used as a tool to measure cognitive changes in the user with a focus on attention and executive function. The app could help people with schizophrenia, estimated at about 3.2 million people in the U.S., know when to seek help prior to a psychotic event.

The team includes entrepreneurial lead Kevin Mohsenian, a PhD candidate in the lab of academic lead Neerah Gandhi, professor of bioengineering, and business mentors Brian Sullivan and Glenn Watson.

They will use the proceeds towards a deeper investigation of their solution and its commercial application. They also plan upon development of a beta  prototype to perform a clinical experiment with Pitt psychologists in collaboration with UPMC using existing patient data.

The third team to receive funding is CellCare, which is pursuing technology to engineer monocytes/stem cells to improve outcomes for wound healing and medical implants in diabetic patients.

The team has established a type I diabetes animal model and will use the funding received toward developing a prototype product using a type II diabetic animal model.

The team includes Muyun Zhao, a bioengineering undergraduate student at the Swanson School of Engineering, academic lead Rui Liang, a research assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, and business mentor Ian Magazine.

First Gear is designed to assist Pitt innovators in determining the commercial potential for Pitt research discoveries. The program offers hands-on guidance from a business mentor, in addition to $3,000 to conduct customer and market research from the NSF I-Corps program.

To learn more and register for an upcoming First Gear cohort, click here